(continued from last week…)
A few months ago a senior Western ajahn was telling me about how he had been asked his expert opinion on the recent attempts to revive the order of ordained Theravada Buddhist nuns; and one of the objections on his longish list was that there are no senior nuns to give necessary training to the new ones. In response to this objection he was informed that nuns do not need training, as women possess inherent wisdom to guide them. However, the personal experiences of almost fifty years, with careful observations and special consideration of the time I've spent among spiritually-inclined people in America after my return from Asia, cause me to be fairly confident that women are just as foolish as men are. In fact this is one of the most important points I feel called to make in this whole long article I started last week, and so I will repeat it for emphasis: Women Are Just As Foolish As Men Are. In that respect we are equal.
One complication to this is that unlike, say, 200 years ago, nowadays female foolishness is more politically correct than its male counterpart, and thus people may have more difficulty in recognizing and acknowledging it. For example, one kind of socially acceptable feminine foolishness that I've touched on already is fearfully preferring security to freedom – security practically being freedom's opposite. Maximum security is found in prisons. On the other hand, true freedom is dangerous, unpredictable, and scary, and perhaps should even be outlawed. Or so some people seem to feel.
Another example is confounding public opinion with enlightened absolute Truth – and hence fashion trends, spiritual fads, and political correctness hysteria itself.
Anyway, partly because men and women are equally foolish (although in overlappingly different ways), I am totally in favor of social equality between the genders. I'm not sure exactly what form this equality would take, however. For instance, it would be absurd if professional football teams were required by law to recruit an equal number of female and male players, for the sake of gender equality. The same uncertainty holds true in romantic relationships: If the woman and the man are absolute equals, then how does the relationship avoid becoming a monster with two heads, which eventually tears itself in half when the heads can't agree on which direction to take? There appear to be very many such torn monsters in America nowadays. Most relationships wind up this way. One solution I've heard from a woman I know is that a relationship should cultivate such a connection that it forms a third, higher entity, a unified "Us" which naturally, harmoniously solves its difficulties with love and care. However, realistically, most people may be insufficiently mature and psychologically incapable of cultivating such a relationship, including most of the people who endorse the solution; and to find a relationship with both partners capable would be harder still. Alternatively, another possible solution is an agreed-upon division of authority, which would be a variation on the way things have always been. Or maybe the spiritual teacher Paul Lowe is right when he asserts that in the modern West sustained monogamy has simply become obsolete.
In addition to the ideal of equality, I also agree with liberal feminists on the idea that civilization must place more emphasis on gentleness and compassion if it is to survive. This would go beyond the mere notion that we're all in the same boat and so should co-operate, and would probably involve real compassion, real empathy, real transpersonal connection. However, this idea does not at all mean that masculinity would be abolished. Over the past two years more than one person on more than one occasion has told me that in America men are not allowed to be masculine any more. (One of the people who has told me this is a wise and rather feministic female, and it was too much even for her idealist tastes.) It seems that cojones have become politically incorrect. To some degree, even a backbone may be a social liability. Following are a few verses by my father, who was infused with more Divine Masculine than most men I have known, describing the plight of the modern American man:
Your destiny is written in the books upon your shelf
For history invariably returns unto itself,
And all the seers and the sages
Who survived throughout the ages
Have decreed that you will castrate yourself.
The Romans lasted near a thousand years,
An Empire carved with axes, swords, and spears;
The world trembled at their feet
And saw their harvests reaped,
Their cities raped and plundered, through their tears.
But they grew soft and weak and lazy just like you,
And the men who survive that combo are too few;
All the jewels on their sandals
Couldn't stop those howling Vandals,
And they fell like gutless wonders always do.
You're as weak as milk, and soft as currant jelly,
So beware the Vandal with the empty belly.
He will never leap the net to shake your hand;
He will never try to make you understand;
He'll kick you in the ___,
Grease his tank treads with your guts—
At least you'll do to fertilize his land.
The point of course is not that men should become, or remain, howling Vandals. The point is that we should have the unflinching fortitude to face those howling Vandals, in whatever form they take, when they come – and that, at the very least, is courage, an aspect of the Divine Masculine.
Thus men should not stop being masculine, but, in order for civilization to continue, should cultivate wise masculinity. For example, the natural male urge for machismo would not artificially disappear, but would outgrow and leave behind violent fist-pounding and adopt something more along the lines of stoic austerity: not just accepting physical discomfort with equanimity, but willingly facing the harshness of the world when it comes. The sun is burning hot; winter ice is freezing cold; diseases, disasters, and death come and go regardless of laws and social reforms; and Vandals may still occasionally howl and grease their tank treads. And from what I have seen, the "yin" oriented New Age appears not very adept at accepting harshness; and to this extent at least, the New Age tends to be, in my opinion, spiritually soft and flabby. (At least they're making an effort.) Trying to avoid, or even disapproving of, the unpleasant realities of existence isn't going to work in the long run. And trying to fix those unpleasant realities, which has become the American obsession, will not be entirely effective either. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism always holds true.
As with early 20th-century Communism, I suspect that the high and praiseworthy ideals of early 21st-century Liberal Feminism may be realizable only through a wiser, more genuinely spiritual approach. As things are going now, the predominant male foolishness would simply (or complicatedly) be replaced by equal and opposite female foolishness, which may be no improvement. To abolish the standard of a woman being a sex object, a voluptuous plaything with the purpose of giving comfort to a man (not always, but pretty often), and alternatively to establish the tradition of a man's primary purpose in Relationship (women seem to use a capital "R" for this term) being to intensify his mate's insatiable psychological processing, would not be much preferable to celibacy for a significant percentage of males. At least it would help me to remain a monk in the West. The progression should not be from male foolishness to unacknowledged female foolishness, but from male and female foolishness to male and female wisdom, that is, to a balanced combination of Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.
But, as thinkers like Dostoyevsky and Krishnamurti have observed, it is not social reforms, but reform of the individual heart that will truly change the world, and maybe even save it. This does not require any social ideals, nor conformity to any system (let alone political correctness hysteria), but involves being as awake, and as unattached to any supposed system of "truth," as possible. In other words, it requires freedom. In such a case it is unnecessary to predict how things ought to happen; they will unfold spontaneously, often in unpredictable ways. So long as society has sufficient wisdom, its outward form will take care of itself. If society doesn't have sufficient wisdom, then we're essentially diddled.
Even if we succeed in creating a Paradise on this Earth in which women and men live in equality and harmony, our human instincts may not change all that much. Our eyebrows may obstinately continue to go up and our mouths continue to drop open when we're suddenly surprised; men may continue to enjoy ogling the smooth curves of pretty women they don't even know; and many women may stubbornly continue, deep down, to desire being dominated by the man of their choice. The trick will be not to overthrow human nature, but presently to observe the more harmful negative aspects of it, and through mindful self-discipline learn not to take them too seriously, and not to react to them by acting them out. This will include a drastic reduction of stereotypically masculine violence, and also of the stereotypical feminine passion for raising cute, cuddly little babies, as well as the stereotypical feminine com-passion which turns into a worried desire to eradicate anything potentially dangerous, from nuclear warfare to wheat gluten. For the world is already grotesquely overpopulated, and if male violence doesn't keep our population in check, then our other options for controlling it are starvation, disease, and/or stoicism. It is not masculinity which must be overthrown, but selfishness and the insane belief that our outward circumstances determine our happiness.
All this reflective meandering may not help anybody with regard to the issue of male/female relations, but perhaps at least now you have some idea as to why I've spent so many years as a celibate, cave-dwelling recluse.
—completed at Wun Bo Wildlife Refuge Monastery on the first day of the waxing moon of Tabodwei (in the year of the one-legged flaming owl)